Ohr Museum Board Has Made No Decisions About The Future

The canopy of oak trees that noted architect Frank Gehry fell in love with is still there. But everything else associated with Gehry's Ohr museum project got flipped upside down when Hurricane Katrina tore apart the campus of buildings under construction.

Larry Clark is the board president of the Ohr O'Keefe Museum of Art.

"It's been extremely frustrating," he said. "So many people want and deserve answers for what's going on right now. And so many of the answers that they're asking for require things that we're just not able to get."

Last week, Clark and his board's executive committee discussed the post Katrina future of the mad potter's museum.

"I guess if I took anything out of our meeting last week, it was that we would rather try and fail than give up," Clark said.

However, until an insurance settlement can be reached, the $30 million cultural campus being built in east Biloxi will remain an unfinished work of art.

Marjie Gowdy is the museum's curator.

"Nobody would love to have it nice and clean and start fertilizing the trees again more than all of us," she said.

Gowdy spends much of her time these days at the Swetman House. Biloxi is letting the Ohr museum use the historic home as a temporary art gallery. So, painters are there daily, sprucing up the walls. There's an open house there this weekend. The temporary studio opens in mid January.

"Right now, we're in a definite positive mode," Gowdy said.

The Swetman House is the Ohr museum's short term solution. The long term options are as varied as the buildings that we're being erected in east Biloxi before Katrina knocked them down.

Ohr board members could give up the site and remodel the downtown Biloxi library. Gowdy called that option B.

Option A is to clean up the waterfront property and start over. Clark thinks that option is gaining momentum again.

"There's a tremendous commitment from the leadership on the board to see this through," he said. "And if the resources are available, it will be on the beach."

Financial resources could come from the designer of what was there before the storm. A spokesman for Frank Gehry said in an e-mail that the famed architect would personally help with fund raising. Clark called Gehry's involvement "a major plus," especially since the architect didn't do fund raising work before Katrina.

"They actually upped the commitment to us by making Frank Gehry available for fund raising efforts," said Clark.

Despite debris covering the property, Gehry Partners can still see the day when the Ohr museum dances with the trees along Highway 90.

"We will aid in the planning of the completion of construction and in any other way that moves the project forward," project manager Craig Webb wrote.

"To have him (Gehry) participate and actually help, this becomes more than just another architectural project," thought Clark. "It becomes a cause."

No matter where the Ohr musem relocates, only a small collection of the mad potter's art will actually be on display. A group called the Getty Foundation gave Ohr curators a $68,000 grant. That money will help the board formulate a protection plan.

Gowdy said the grant's goal is to get most of Ohr's pottery stored somewhere north of I-10. Periodically, certain pieces would be rotated from the storage site to the museum.